Yemen’s Saleh: A Diem for our times?
Posted by sanityinjection on January 11, 2010
Newsweek’s Kevin Peraino and Michael Hirsh paint a disturbing portrait of the man America is relying on to fight our proxy war against Al Qaeda in Yemen – that country’s President, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Although they never identify the reference, they paraphrase what Lyndon Johnson famously said about then-President of South Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem: “He may be an SOB, but he’s our SOB.” In other words, we’re stuck with him because there is no better alternative.
In fact, the parallels between Saleh and Diem are striking. Both were elected democratically, albeit in elections that were widely viewed as corrupt. Both sit perilously at the head of governments that are tottering, but have been successful in maintaining their power. Both are happy to take US aid and use it as they see fit – even if that means suppressing domestic political opponents rather than fighting the common enemy. Both are the kind of person you would never choose to jump in a foxhole with unless you have to.
And yet, we do have to. We saw what happened in Vietnam when the Kennedy Administration silently supported the coup that removed Diem from power and replaced him with a military regime. The South Vietnamese regime became increasingly unstable and never again held any sort of legitimacy in the eyes of the Vietnamese people. Similarly, replacing Saleh would be a disaster. None of the opposition or rebel factions are particularly pro-Western, for one thing, and there’s no reason to think that an alternative candidate would do a better job of juggling Yemen’s mishmash of tribal and Islamic politics.
The other alternative is to send in ground troops, which nobody wants to do right now, the vision of a second Afghanistan looking all too clear. So we settle for remote air and sea strikes against Al Qaeda targets and increased CIA activity. And we pray that we don’t end up with a second failed state in Yemen directly across from the one we’ve already got in Somalia.